Review: Calm With Horses

Poster for Calm With Horses, featuring Cosmo Jarvis and Barry Keoghan

***

In rural Ireland, a man is at war with himself. Ex-boxer Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is no stranger to violence, having retired after an accidental death in the ring and spending his post-retirement life as an enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family. But when he is asked to kill for the first time, he is forced to decide who he really is, and what that means for his autistic five-year-old son Jack.

Okay, so the plot isn’t hugely original – the tale of the gangster torn between his job and his family has been told time and time again. Thankfully, in Calm With Horses it is executed well enough that the film is still a worthwhile watch despite the largely unoriginal plot.

For starters, Arm is a more empathetic protagonist than many in this type of drama; thanks in large part to the subtle yet emotional performance from Jarvis, we actually believe it when people tell Arm that this violent man is ‘not who he is,’ we can see in his eyes he doesn’t enjoy violence the way other characters do. It’s clear the loves his son, but the film also shows us that he is not good for him, this dawning realisation adding an extra dimension to Arm’s emotional struggle: the choice he must make between his wish to be a part of Jack’s life, and what is truly best for the boy. It’s a painful conflict that Jarvis does well, showcasing Arm’s inner turmoil without ever resorting to melodrama.

His is not the only good performance, as there are great turns from much of the supporting cast. Stand outs are Niamh Algar as Jack’s mother Ursula, and Ned Dennehy, who is nothing short of terrifying as bloodthirsty gangster Paudi.

As much as the overarching plot may lack originality, the script is otherwise rather adept, with naturalistic dialogue, well-rounded characters and not a moment of filler. At around 100 minutes long, the film never drags, and rackets up the tension nicely as it moves towards its finale.

Taking its story from such a tried and tested formula, Calm With Horses won’t blow any minds. But with a tight script and talented cast, it makes a solid and involving thriller nonetheless.

Calm With Horses opens in UK cinemas on 13th March 2020.